By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
It’s not just the curve that’s problematic. Given the poor direction and halting script, Trouble with the Curve stops mere inches short of the foul line. There may be no crying in baseball, but as regards the word “trouble” (to borrow a lyric from The Music Man): Ya got Trouble right here in Clint City! With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for … a Pitch that might have sounded good in a studio exec’s office but yikes, what a strike out.
While late September/early October usually delivers a baseball film that serves as a cinematic prelude to the World Series, the term “fall classic” certainly isn’t in play this season. Not even with such talent as Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman. Let’s face it: Moneyball it ain’t.
With Clint Eastwood’s longtime producer Robert Lorenz being called up to manage, er, direct this movie about an aging talent scout past his time and the fractious relationship with his ambitious workaholic daughter, Lorenz was behind in the count even before he started. Add to that a script by rookie writer Randy Brown, and it’s almost a crime that the actors were forced to take the field.
And yet, with seasoned filmmakers, this movie could have been a winner. Clint Eastwood plays the grizzled Gus, a timeworn baseball talent scout for the Atlanta Braves, whose eyesight is severely hampered by what might be an early onset of glaucoma. But he can’t afford to let the front office know, not with his contract about to expire and a high school batting phenom named Bo showing off his swing to any MLB scout with a checkbook, looking to be this season’s number one draft pick. It’s up to Gus to travel to North Carolina to assess the kid up close – if only he could see. The Braves’ scout manager Pete (John Goodman) begs Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to take a few days off from her high-powered law firm to rush out to North Carolina in order to help her old man out. High stakes being what they are, she’s about to be named the youngest partner at her firm – but if she leaves in the middle of her current case, her career may be jeopardized. Throw in a onetime pitcher (Justin Timberlake’s Johnny) who Gus previously scouted, who’s now temporarily taken up scouting in the hopes of jumpstarting a career as a sportscaster. Naturally, when Johnny meets Mickey, sparks ensue.
The best of this particular Trouble is the thorny relationship between non-communicative Gus and wounded Mickey, still hurt that her widower father farmed her out in her early childhood to be raised by distant relatives, assuming that he had chosen baseball over her. When she tries to confront him time and again, Gus refuses, sidelined by his anger that he’s losing grip, forced to be reliant on others. Might he someday talk about his feelings? Face his guilt about his inability to father a child properly? The two actors are a treat to watch as they argue, retreat, and go head-to-head again. For anyone who’s ever had a difficult parent, Trouble with the Curve scores quite a few points.
If only the rest of the film gave such good game. Instead, the remaining characters are drawn as if by thick white chalk on an old-fashioned scoreboard: large and flat. E.g., the mean-spirited batting phenom Bo (Joe Massingill); the Braves’ insufferably smug assistant director of scouting Phil (Matthew Lillard); Mickey’s bloodless beau, computing the efficacy of a possible marital alliance on paper; and the triad of arrogant partners at Mickey’s law firm who find the idea of a woman colleague difficult to accept (in 2012?). Even the usually fine Justin Timberlake is straitjacketed into a rom-com corner, playing perhaps the least impressive role of his film career.
Scenes are flat, and sculpted with little craft. A side-by-side small chat at the motel between Mickey and Johnny is followed by a side-by-side small chat at the lake between Mickey and Johnny. The arguments are often circular, the situations obvious.
It’s interesting to note that with regard to the methodology of scouting ball players, the process that’s championed in Trouble with the Curve is the antithesis of the Moneyball argument propounded by the Oakland A’s Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt). In that film, as well as Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book, the idea was that computers, statistics and comprehensive analysis was superior to old-time instinct. Here, the Moneyball theory is reviled, with the screenplay slanting the film toward the sentimental tradition of all-knowing geezers traveling to games in hick towns all over the country, gathering like old crows in the stands, watching, hearing, assessing. What a shame that this film bobbled a savvier look at both sides of that fascinating argument.
Though Gus can’t see, he can most certainly hear a smash hit. Which just might be a perfect remedy for Trouble with the Curve: keep the visual off the screen but crank up the audio. As Yogi Berra says, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
Rating on a scale of 5 diamonds in the rough: 2
Release date: September 21, 2012
Directed by: Robert Lorenz
Written by: Randy Brown
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, Bob Gunton, Joe Massingill
Running Time: 111 minutes